Plan, don't panic

When production ramps up and the greenhouse gets busy, small problems can snowball into serious issues. We reached out to two big greenhouse growers for their best tips on how to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
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Ivan Tchakarov, chief horticultural officer at Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, North Carolina, share his tips for keeping production on track during the spring months.

Greenhouse Management: How do you prioritize tasks in the greenhouse?

Ivan Tchakarov: Metrolina has two locations and more the 450 acres of growing space so task assignments, timing and execution are critical for our success. Ninety-five percent of what we do is rinse/repeat from prior years, and we use technology like Microsoft Teams and other workplace apps to have live reporting to assure those repetitive tasks are done efficiently. Remember what you did last year and assure 50% of your time is spent on repeating those tasks efficiently. This frees up the key time to work on the other 5% that generates new items, new efficiencies and new processes in the greenhouse. The reason we have worked and invested in these protocols is that it helps keep us focused on one of our core strategies of eliminating non-valued added tasks in our work each day.

GM: How do you stay organized during the most stressful times of the year?

IT: While stressful, we face the same stress each year where we are trying to push our 60% of our volume in 25% of the calendar year. We know this is going to happen, and we work together as one team with one goal to make it happen. Everyone knows the stress is coming and thrives on it verses letting it drag us down.

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GM: How do you maintain communication with staff during the spring?

IT: It takes some a simple two-step process of 1) having a plan, and 2) adapting each day to the nuances of the spring. We have daily “tailgate” meetings between each shift change, shared documents so everyone is on the same page up to the minute, and MTV (Metrolina TV) where we have 18 monitors throughout the facility to communicate weekly results and key metrics that team members view at breaks, lunches and shift changes. We also have a virtual suggestion box process for employees to provide solutions as the season progresses.

GM: What technology are you using to help cut down on mistakes?

IT: Technology is the key in any work process to make it efficient, and we use a combination of programs to record, communicate, measure, scorecard, and improve each task or process. While we are working on an integrated work process flow tool to streamline this even more, today we use a combination of our ERP System (MAS500), Google Sheets, Microsoft Teams and internally designed apps to make work happen as efficiently as possible.  

Amy Morris, vice president and head grower at N.G. Heimos Greenhouses and Millstadt Young Plants in Millstadt, Illinois, shares her thoughts on staying sane during the spring.

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Greenhouse Management: How do you prioritize tasks in the greenhouse?

Amy Morris: We use a few basic rules of thumb. First, orders always come first. We need to make sure our customer is satisfied. If it is a season where we are not shipping heavy, then any URC that needs to be planted comes first. Every Friday we make sure the place is cleaned. As my father always said, “Start clean, stay clean.”

GM: How do you stay organized during hectic times?

AM: Stay calm and make sure you cross-train. Make sure you have a good team and make sure that two other people always know someone else’s job.

Number one is keeping sales and production on the same page. This always seems to be the number one issue in any greenhouse."

GM: How do you maintain communication with staff during the spring?

AM: One thing we do is create a traffic plan. This way every lead knows the goal and objective of the day and they can communicate with their team. And this way no one can say they were not informed.

GM: Is there any tech you’re using to help cut down on mistakes?

AM: Number one is keeping sales and production on the same page. This always seems to be the number one issue in any greenhouse. We have solved this with a middleperson. They sit in on all meeting for both groups and they also double check that production is understanding what sales is asking for. We have found this has helped so much.